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Unexpected Treasures

Some very strange things found in salvage vehicles

Story & photos by Gary Lund

What strange or valuable items are left behind in abandoned cars or salvage vehicles? You'd expect that they would always be cleared of the owners' possessions, tools, or even contraband before being delivered to a recycler or salvage yard. And that's usually the case, since by that time a vehicle has been handled by the police, towing operators, the insurance company, and perhaps even thieves. But sometimes articles are missed, or simply abandoned along with the vehicle.

The photos with this article are all from one import auto recycler, Coast Import Auto Supply. The owner has seen a lot of interesting things come into his yard. He has a fascinating display case that contains a lot of curios that accompanied salvage vehicles, all very old items that he will probably never sell.

Coast Import, located on Mitchell Island in Richmond, British Columbia, is like a museum, whether you are looking at the curiosities in the display case, the parts sitting in wooden tea crates in the warehouse, or Austin front clips perched on top of a shed. This company has been around for many years and has had many odd things arrive with vehicles.

Medals & More

Most items found are quite ordinary personal items, such as inexpensive earrings lost between seat cushions. Coast's Ed Tretwold notes that St. Christopher medals, which are supposed to protect travellers, were once a common accessory. But since St. Christopher lost his sainthood, few of the medals show up now.

Scissors are a frequent find. Tretwold says the company must have a collection of 300 pairs. Sometimes scissors are used by thieves to start cars; older Hondas are especially susceptible to this technique.

Other finds at Coast have been the occasional small gold chain, loose tools and full tool boxes, sleeping bags, garden tools, golf clubs, and a Maytag washing machine motor. Nowadays quite a number of ornaments popular with East Asians (such as "Hello Kitty") show up.

Here's one that would have been good for a gangster movie. Dharney's Salvage in Langley, B.C., came across a car that had a hinged sub-floor in the trunk, under the well that holds the spare tire. An electric switch on the dash would cause the sub-floor to drop open. Perhaps this was used as a way to get rid of contraband in a time of "legal stress."

Paper & Powder

One recycler found a sheet of onedollar bills not long after the Canadian “loonie” coin replaced the paper dollar. The staff at Reid’s Auto Wrecking in Burnaby, B.C. was once saddled with some less-valuable paper. They had to get rid of a full load of newspapers that arrived with a Dodge Caravan. An-other time they came into possession of a cache of laminate flooring, which arrived along with a work truck.

Doug Hunt, general manager at Ralph’s Used Auto and Truck Parts, also on Richmond’s Mitchell Island, tells of an impounded car they received a decade ago that was filled with the sort of merchandise that you’d find at a flea market. There were brand-new chisels with the price tag still on the packages, other items you’d see in a dollar store, and even a generator. The car was so full of stuff, there was barely room for a driver to fit in.

At the same salvage yard, one of their workers found a blow-up sex-toy doll in a vehicle, and for a joke set it beside one of the front counter guys, to pose as a helper.

Stuart Ady, owner of Ernie’s Used Auto Parts in Castlegar, BC, tells a story involving his late dad. “My dad, Ernie, when he was alive, contraband wasn’t really something he was up on. He was going through a car we were dismantling, And he pulled out a package of powder. He didn’t know what it was, so he grabbed it and shook it in the air. Our watch dog was sniffing away at the stuff, and I just about freaked out. I said, ‘Dad, you’re feeding that dog coke!’ He didn’t know it was cocaine. And poor Buster — the dog was okay, but he did get high.”

More Weirdness

The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia’s (ICBC) provincial salvage operations manager, Brendan Lally, provided several instances of weird finds. The staff has found both real and fake firearms, and illegal drugs, especially marijuana — sometimes garbage bags full of it. Their favorite find was a can of Pepsi in a Coca-Cola van driver’s drink holder.

A widow’s car contained a box of crematorium ashes in the trunk. She apparently had been driving around for several years with her late husband’s ashes in the trunk.

Clint Wilson at Ideal Auto Wrecking in Chilliwack, B.C. has seen everything. He likes to find useful things, such as the microwave oven his staff found and used in their shop; or a Scrabble game, complete with all the pieces, which he brought home to his children. But he and his staff have Found plenty beyond the useful or benign.

For reasons unknown, dirty underwear is also often found in salvage vehicles, Wilson says. Perhaps scarier still, one employee found himself in close confines with a family of rats inches from his face. The employee had accessed a car trunk through the back seat area, after cutting away some of the bracing.

Wilson relates: “Then he slid himself into the trunk, and he was getting ready with his tools to pop the latch when he looked over to one side with his flashlight, and five pairs of little beady eyes were looking at him. He said he got out of there so quick, he cut himself up getting past all that cut steel. He’s lucky he didn’t need stitches.”

And Not Least…

Wilson tells the story of an import auto recycler finding the leg of a deer in a car. As a practical joke, it was wrapped up and sent to another recycler, labelled as a suspension assembly known as a “knee.”

A truck came into another recycling facility with about 500 pornographic magazines. Wilson notes that when people get into accidents, they don’t take that sort of reading material with them — they leave it at the scene. The same goes for sex toys — there’s no shortage of those left in salvage vehicles. Likewise, pornographic movies have been found, including one that was deemed to be homemade.

Of course, the finds described are the items the recycling shops’ owners or managers know about. Who knows what well-hidden currency, diamonds, gold, or rare artifacts may be carried off to oblivion when a car body goes to the shredder?

Gary Lund is a Vancouver, BC-based freelance writer and editor, and an active member of the Editors’ Association of Canada. Contact him at lundwriting@ or 604-267-7460. This article was previously published in Collision Quarterly magazine.